Chris Rock: No Apologies
Show type: Tour
America’s record-breaking comedian and former star of Saturday Night Live has announced a series of UK shows to mark the start of a stand-up comedy world tour.
Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, Chris Rock is one of comedy’s strongest and most original voices. The Brooklyn-raised comedian has garnered three Emmies, three Grammy Awards. He is also co-creator and narrator of the acclaimed hit television series Everybody Hates Chris.
Well it’s about bloody time. Chris Rock has finally dragged himself to Britain, and the air of expectation among the 3,600 fans at the first sell-out night at the Hammersmith Apollo in is palpable. The atmosphere is as electric as the blue of the natty suit in which he took to the stage, to a deafening ovation.
Rock is rightfully placed as one of the finest stand-ups of his generation, with a mightily impressive back catalogue of provocative, funny routines, but can he possibly meet the towering expectations his previous form brings?
The answer is yes. And no. In a lively, fluid 90-minute set, Rock offers a typically virtuosic display of opinionated stand-up. Yet it’s diluted by chunks of filler material, especially on the topic of men and women, that doesn’t seem worthy of such a genius, however expertly it’s performed.
We’re eased into things gently, with some astute observations about Britain from his few short days here, and then it’s on to matters topical, with Britney Spears’s well-publicised troubles topping the agenda.
But Rock being Rock, this is no flighty showbiz piss-take, as he injects his twin trademarks of racial and social commentary into the story, suggesting white children are protected quicker than black ones. Just look at Whitney Houston’s kids, he says, or OJ’s.
It’s a good time to be a black American stand-up tackling current affairs, given the rise of Barack Obama and Rock mines the Democrat race well, again mixing the big news stories, race issues and a personal take on what it must be like to be Hillary Clinton or Mrs Obama.
When Rock’s stand-up forces converge like this, the result is always masterful. His best segment of the night involves the things you can and can’t say, depending on your status – and why sometimes political correctness needs to go out the window. Liberally peppered with biting insults – not to mention the n-word he’s almost obliged to use - it takes its place among his canon of faultless routines.
Dead-end jobs and the rising price of oil provide other stand-out moments, and you can only imagine the reaction his assertion ‘George Washington was not a good person’ will have in his homeland, even if the Brits are more phlegmatic about his sainted status.
It is segments like this that cement Rock’s reputation as an outspoken, audacious, insightful comic, unafraid to speak his mind and with the eloquence and wit to encapsulate his brilliantly original ideas into the perfect, pithy gag.
This searing commentary is what Rock does best. Better, possibly, than anyone else. But it’s not all he does. There is, for example, in tonight’s show a brief routine about the relative merits of ‘big titties’ versus ‘sloppy titties’ – something of a comedown from the black people versus niggers routine for which he is most celebrated.
So it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that the final third of his show tackles that most enduringly popular topic of stand-up: the difference between men and women. But it is a disappointment that when it comes to discussing this, this usually incisive, penetrating observer reduces everything to the broadest stereotype. All men are driven by sex; all women are driven by possessions. In Rock’s unedifying world, marriage is simply a way for women to get their hands on their husband’s cash, go shopping, withhold sex and read their celebrity tittle-tattle in peace. These are the clichés of every dodgy Seventies sitcom, not what we have come to expect from a cutting-edge comic in 2008.
Still, audiences always seem to like having these stereotypes reaffirmed, and the routine is well-received – thanks, too, to Rock’s exemplary delivery.
Although he was less frenetic than you might expect, he still paces the full length of the stage as he mulls over his topics, stopping dead when he needs to impart a punchline or nugget of opinion, giving these proclamations added weight. Every oratorial trick in the book is employed, from rhetorical questions, to repetitions of key phrases, and with Rock’s scintillating energy, it works impressively well, while still maintaining the crucial fluidity that makes it all seem as natural as a rant in the pub.
But forget any misgivings about the more obvious, mainstream material, Rock leaves us in no doubt that we’ve seen a maestro at work. This first UK visit has been worth waiting for – but now you’ve come, don’t be a stranger, eh, Chris?
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Hammersmtih Apollo, Jan 9, 2008